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Proposed congressional bill compensates student-athletes

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) sponsored a bill with Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio) to reduce the authority held by the NCAA and introduce federal oversight into the collegiate athletic name, image and likeness use.  – Photo by Wikimedia

On Sept. 24, two congressional delegates introduced a bill that, if passed, could allow college student-athletes to make money from a number of sources in the near future.

These sources include endorsement deals, sponsorships and contracts signed with private companies to produce merchandise based on the student-athlete's personal brand. After decades of tight financial control by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), this bill could open the door for increased flexibility in the collegiate sports world. 

Sponsored by Reps. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio) and Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), the bill is a bipartisan effort designed to reduce the authority held by the NCAA and introduce federal oversight into the collegiate athletic name, image and likeness (NIL) use. 

For the past few months, the NCAA has been fighting to retain its NIL use restrictions by asking Congress for an antitrust exemption. If granted, this exemption would have allowed the NCAA to continue impeding student-athletes from making money through sports. In a 2019 study conducted by the National College Players Association, it was found that 86 percent of college athletes live below the federal poverty line. 

"There are hungry nights that I go to bed and I'm starving," said Shabazz Napier, a former UConn guard, to reporters just after winning the NCAA Championship.

Due to their commitment to sports practices and maintaining their grades, student-athletes rarely have time to work a job outside of college, offering them little to no chance of making money while attending their universities. 

Over the past decade, the lowest-paid head coach in any major NCAA football conference made upwards of $1.5 million per year. But even though they put just as much time and effort in, the players weren't paid even a fraction of this amount.

While the NCAA could freely use the players' likenesses to create posters and promotional videos, the players themselves were prevented from earning any of the money that the advertisements generated. 

The bill marks a significant step toward changing this situation and could lead to greater participation and increased activity surrounding college sports.

The proposed law would also lead to the formation of a 13-member committee, whose role would be to oversee the distribution of the profits and regulate any unintended consequences such a change would bring about. As a whole, the Federal Trade Commission would oversee the entire process, federally enforcing the law. 

"I understand first-hand the need to create a fair system for student-athletes while maintaining the integrity and distinctiveness of college sports," said Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), a co-sponsor of the bill. "I believe this bill does just that, and it does it in a way that is impartial for all athletes across the country and not just a small group in certain states."

The bill is still in its early stages. New ideas are continually incorporated, including a facet that prohibits colleges from recruiting student-athletes through bribes or any other form of payment as an incentive for a student to enroll.

Gonzalez has said that the representatives also debated including a provision that would mitigate the concerns with student-athletes potentially endorsing companies that competed with brands that sponsor their schools. After consideration, they instead decided that this would be unfair to the student-athletes and chose not to include it. 

The fate of the bill will be determined in the first few months of 2021. For now, Gonzalez and Cleaver said they will continue working with the NCAA to edit the proposed law and create a fair legislation. 

"We greatly appreciate U.S. Reps. Gonzalez and Cleaver’s collaboration to sponsor bipartisan legislation to strengthen the college athlete experience," according to the NCAA in a press statement released on the bill. "We look forward to working together with both representatives, their co-sponsors and other members of Congress to further establish a legal and legislative environment where our schools can continue to support student-athletes within the context of higher education."

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